Just a day and a few hours after the big trade that sent Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Sami Vatanen, the Devils were in Denver to take on the Colorado Avalanche. They would eke out a 2-1 win in what was a well played game by both teams, albeit one filled with penalties. With this win, the Devils won another one goal game (their tenth of the season so far) and swept the season series with Colorado – after also winning at home on opening day against them.
Vatanen actually got to the team hotel before his new teammates did and was there to greet them. He did play with a few former Ducks-turned-Devils in Ben Lovejoy, Stefan Noesen and Kyle Palmieri (who is injured right now and, thus, not on the trip) prior to the trade, so he did have some comfortability there. Vatanen is, according to his former/current teammates and MSG’s broadcast, a good puck possession defenseman and is very aggressive and physical. He played the night paired up mostly with Andy Greene as the top D pairing for the Devils.
With the new addition came some roster changes for the Devils. Dalton Prout and Steven Santini sat out on defense while Jimmy Hayes was a healthy scratch up front. The Devils were also getting back Marcus Johansson, who last played exactly one month ago when he was concussed in Vancouver. It was good to see Johansson make his return and he had quite an impact, especially early, when he took a penalty and then drew a penalty in almost complete succession.
The Avs were missing Gabriel Landeskog due to his suspension (he is on the second game of a four game ban) because of a cross checking incident on the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk. Although the Devils would not see him, they would be seeing plenty of Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche forward who was named the first star of the month for November.
The main story of the game was penalties. There was 22 minutes worth of power play time between the two teams. The Devils were 1-for-6 with the extra attacker, with six shots on goal. The Avs were 1-for-5 with three shots on goal.
One other item of note is that Will Butcher, the former Denver University Pioneer who was originally drafted by the Avalanche, but signed with the Devils instead, was not booed. The only thing that I could assume with that was that with the Avs signing Alexander Kerfoot, an original Devils draftee, it was all even in the fans’ minds.
After a scoreless first period, it was Jesper Bratt who got the Devils on the board at the 13:58 mark of the second period. That was his eighth of the year and was unassisted. He got it when Andy Greene stretched a pass into the Colorado zone that eluded a Devil, but was played by Avs goaltender Semyon Varlamov. He left it for Colorado d-man Nikita Zadorov, who tried to pass to Erik Johnson, but had his pocket picked by Bratt. Bratt stole the puck nearly at the goal line and fired into an empty net from the sharp angle. That goal made it 1-0 Devils and showed the really good forechecking that this team now employs, forcing mistakes and capitalizing on them.
The Avs, however, would answer right back. At 17:11, Andy Greene would block a Kerfoot shot only to have the puck fall right on the stick of JT Compher, who beat Cory Schneider to make it 1-1. Tyson Barrie had the secondary assist on that one. That goal came on the power play while Ben Lovejoy was serving two minutes for hooking. The game would remain tied going into the third period.
A scary moment for the Devils early in the third period as Brian Gibbons blocked a shot and left the ice in extreme pain. He would return by period’s end, however.
The game winner would end up coming off of the stick of Brian Boyle (his fourth of the year) at 6:11 of the third. This was also a power play goal, with Colorado’s Mark Barberio in the box for holding Blake Coleman’s stick. It came when Taylor Hall skated the puck through the neutral zone and dished off to Bratt along the near wall. He gave back to Hall, who fired on net. That created a goalmouth scramble with Boyle eventually jamming home the puck to make it 2-1 Devils.
And that is how it would end. The Avs would pull Varlamov, but would see nothing come of it as the Devils won key faceoffs in their defensive zone and controlled the play. Lovejoy scored into the empty net just as time was expiring and, thus, the goal did not count. So 2-1 it ended.
The three stars of the game were Boyle (number three), Compher (two) and Bratt (first star). Vatanen immediately made an impact, leading the team in time on ice with 23:13. Hall led in shots on goal with five while John Moore, with Santini out, took over the hits lead with four. New Jersey won 56-percent of the game’s faceoffs.
As an aside, MSG’s Deb Placey mentioned an interesting story about how the Avalanche actually played a role in the Devils getting Vatanen. When Colorado’s Matt Duchene was up on the trading block, Anaheim was really pushing hard for him. When Ottawa ended up making the deal for him earlier this season, the Ducks, still in need of some forward help, picked up talks with Ray Shero and the Devils ended up getting Sami Vatanen.
The goaltending stats saw Cory block away 22 of the 23 shots he saw. Varlamov was equal to 19 of 21 Devils shots. The Devils had a single shorthanded shot sprinkled in there.
So next up, the Devils leave the Mile High City for the desert. They travel to Arizona for the second half of a back-to-back tomorrow night, the second game of the three game road trip. We will have that one for you right here.